Chicago in winter is hot, hot, hot for tourists

By Elizabeth Czapski, Staff Writer

Winter in Chicago means one thing—cold. Chicago might not be Miami, but Chicago gets visitors even in the depths of winter.

The reasons are as varied as the visitors. Some come for conferences and others come for vacation, but one no matter what, the city seeks to welcome all winter tourists with warm smiles and plenty to do.

“People think of the city as being very cold and unfriendly, but actually the weather in Chicago can be great in the winter time, and there are great things to do,” Erik Grazetti, director of sales and marketing at the Loews Chicago Hotel, 455 N. Park Drive.

He explained that the city has done a good job of marketing itself as a destination for people in surrounding states who want to break out of winter’s “cabin fever” by offering a variety of activities like the Chicago Auto Show, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, sporting events and concerts.

Colleen Sweitzer, marketing manager at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, said in addition to events for the holidays, so much of Chicago’s culture involves “great indoor fun,” including museum exhibits, theater and music.

Once visitors do get there, there will always be a personal, smiling face at the ready. No matter what the reason or the season, Choose Chicago, the official marketing organization for the city, said their Chicago Greeter program pairs volunteer city greeters with individuals who may want a local to show them around.

The service is available all year long, except on major holidays and it could come in handy for those visitors who come to the city at the last minute and don’t have a set itinerary. This sort of a visit is more common in the winter time than some might expect. “Seventy or 80 percent of our business on the [winter] weekends comes from within about a four hour drive of the hotel,” Grazetti said. Local travelers, he said, can plan a trip more last-minute than someone who wants to plan a five or six-day trip. “Those types of people tend to go to the warm-weather destinations.”

“In the Midwest, we kind of hunker down, so a trip to Chicago is a nice change of pace and a fun getaway in the winter rather than hibernating until spring,” Sweitzer said. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is based in Canada, and Sweitzer said the hotel sees many Canadian tourists in the winter as well.

“We’re warm here compared to a lot of places in Canada in the winter,” she said.

Still, fewer people are staying at Chicago hotels in the winter. Grazetti said from January to mid-March, the Loews sees a 60 percent room occupancy rate, compared to a 90 percent average during the warmer months. That’s good news for winter travelers as fewer people in the hotels means generally cheaper rooms. Grazetti added, however, that occupancy is up, even in the winter time, compared with eight or nine years ago.

Grazetti praised Choose Chicago, which has “done a really good job, particularly I’d say over the last five years or so, in really promoting Chicago as a winter destination, and we’ve definitely seen the impact of that,” he said.

Besides discounts and cabin fever, there’s something else that brings people to Chicago in the winter: conventions. Grazetti called Chicago a “conference town.”

“The hotel market in the city really kind of thrives on the convention business that is brought into McCormick place and some of the larger venues here,” he said.

Grazetti said conventions bring in about 1.2 million people per year, with about 15 percent of those people during the winter months. Despite lower hotel prices, organizations tend to avoid booking conferences in colder months when bad weather could shut down an airport, he said.

The American Student Dental Association took that risk and held its national leadership conference in Chicago in mid-November. Tatum Newbill, Matthew McLeod and Chantol Peterkin, dental students from Howard University in Washington, D.C. attended the conference.

Peterkin said she had been to Chicago during the winter and wasn’t worried about the weather. “If you have the time now, why not?” she said.

McLeod said the students discussed preparing for the weather the week before the conference. “I’m wearing layers right now,” he said. “I hear it’s nicer in the summer.”

Other winter conferences this year included the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) which attracted tens of thousands of guests and the Muslim American Society’s annual national convention at the end of December, hosted about 12,000 attendees. Both conferences were set for McCormick Place.

Bob and Gretchen Montgomery, along with four travel companions, made the trek to Chicago from Dallas and Denver and were taking photos in Millennium Park on a snowy November day.


“We love Chicago,” Bob Montgomery said, adding the group had come to celebrate a birthday and an anniversary and to see Hamilton.

The weather in Chicago, they said, wasn’t much different from the weather in their home cities. “Weather shouldn’t be a hindrance to going somewhere, to have fun,” Gretchen Montgomery said.

To find out more about the Chicago Greeter program, call (312) 945-4231 or visit their website at www.chicagogreeter.com or visit the Choose Chicago website at www.choosechicago.com

No ‘paws’ in winter fun for Fido: Indoor activities for your dog

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

 

Doggy Paddle

Doggy Paddle, 1430 W. Willow St., has indoor pools for pups, allowing your four-legged friends to get some aquatic exercise even when the lake is frozen over. Swimming for dogs has many physical and psychological benefits, including improved flexibility and mobility and reduced stress and anxiety, according to Doggy Paddle. where, dogs can swim privately, or in groups based on temperament and experience. An instructor is always present while dogs are in the pool. In the new member pool, the instructor will help guide furry friends. Private swimming lessons are also available. Doggy Paddle also has an indoor dog park, use of which is included with a swim. Vaccinations are required and unneutered dogs can be booked for private swims only. Prices begin at $32 for group swims. For more information, visit doggypaddle.com

K9University

K9University, 2945 W Lake St., has an indoor open-play, climate-controlled dog park, open 9–11 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday that allows your dogs to get out all their energy on winter weekends. To use the park, customers pay $15 for the first dog, with $8 for any additional dogs in the family. Staff is on hand at all times, but owners are encouraged to watch and learn what safe play between dogs looks like, according to K9University’s website. The space is also available for private reservations to throw a puppy birthday party or get-together. K9University recommends checking its calendar for special events or a specific pup party. Vaccinations are required. K9U also features boarding, training and daycare. For more information, visit k9uchicago.com

See Spot shop…

Running errands with a pup can kill two birds with one stone by giving your dog some exercise while you knock things off your to-do list. Certain stores and shops welcome pets in downtown Chicago, so you can bring your buddy along with you. Besides pet stores such as PetSmart or Kriser’s, The Shops at North Bridge, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdale’s, at 900 N. Michigan Ave., are pet friendly. Be sure to enter in the Walton entrance for Bloomingdale’s, as the rest of the mall does not allow dogs. Other stores that allow dogs include LUSH, Restoration Hardware, Anthropologie and the Apple Store.